Shooting For NCAA Tournament

Getting an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament last season was received with open arms by the University of Miami women's basketball team. But the overall consensus this season is that just making the postseason won't be enough. Despite getting bounced out of last year's NCAA Tournament by New Mexico , UM coach Ferne Labati felt the players were satisfied with just having made it that far.

"It was one of those situations that just making the NCAA Tournament, the players were ecstatic," said Labati, who guided the Hurricanes to an 18-13 record and back to the NCAAs last season after a four-year absence. "But after getting eliminated everybody n that locker room made a promise to themselves. That was to be back in the NCAA Tournament, but this time we want to get in with no questions."

And the Hurricanes have all the pieces in place to meet those expectations.

Miami's chances of going dancing once again are pretty good thanks to the return of six of the team's top seven scorers from a year ago. The Hurricanes, who reached the semifinals of the Big East Tournament as a seventh-seed last season, finished 19th overall in scoring offense and third in steals in the nation. And there's nothing to indicate the Hurricanes won't continue scoring and creating havoc on defense this season.

Leading the way is 5-9 sophomore Tamara James, who led the Big East in scoring last year with 21 points per game and was the top scoring freshmen in the nation. James finished fifth among Big East players in rebounding (7.9) and third in field goal percentage (. 516). James, voted to the preseason All-Big East first team, is expected to carry most of the offensive load for the Hurricanes this season.

"Tamara is a very, very special player," said Labati. "We all remember (UM player) Frances Savage, and Tamara is that kind of player in that she just makes things happen and makes the players around her better. For her to dominate as a freshman the way she did was just phenomenal."

Senior forward Chanivia Broussard is also being counted on heavily this season. Broussard averaged 9.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 29 games last season, but will get limited opportunities to increase those numbers. Shaquana Wilkins and junior Melissa Knight will spell Broussard. Wilson started 20 games added 8.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Knight averaged 6.6 points per game.

The backcourt will be anchored by junior point guard Yalonda McCormick. McCormick averaged 10.2 points, 6.0 assists and 3.2 steals as a starter in every game last season. Senior Hutashi Wilson, who averaged 17 minutes in 29 games, returns, and is also expected to see her playing time increase. Junior Fallon Phanord and Katie Hayek will be the first back-ups at the position of the bench.

Miami plays five games away from the Convocation Center to start the season before returning to home to host cross-town rival Florida International on Dec. 2. The Hurricanes will open the Big East portion of their schedule with trips to St. John's (Jan. 3), Villanova (Jan. 7) and Boston College (Jan. 10).

And considering that Labati is almost guaranteeing a return trip to the NCAA Tournament she isn't about to complain on the road the schedule-makers have paved for the Hurricanes.

"Just like every year we have the kind of schedule that's going to test our ability as a basketball team," says Labati. "And that's exactly the way you want it because in order to play in the NCAA Tournament you have to prove yourself during the regular season- with our schedule we have an opportunity of doing just that."

UM opened the season with a 93-54 win last night at Morehead State.

Canes Time Top Stories